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Remembering Robin


I felt punched in the stomach when I heard about Robin Williams.

When he came to LA in the 70’s, all of us comics had our acts – material that we’d meticulously worked on. Sure, every now and then we would try out new material, but we’d never seen anyone like Robin. He would start with a piece about Shakespeare and then, distracted by someone in the audience, would zoom off in a new direction, bouncing off the lightning of ideas in his brain, firing and never misfiring.


At the time I was doing a magic act; the stage was pre-set before I began. Robin went on before I did, picking up my props and improvising with then. My magic act was ruined, but Robin taught me to let go and flow with the moment. I’ve always been grateful to him for that.

Robin’s energy was uncontainable. When he was starting out, a typical night for him was performing at the Comedy Store, driving an hour to Newport Beach to perform at the Laff Stop, driving back late at night to do a show at the Hollywood Improv and finishing at the Comedy Store with the Comedy Store Improv Players.

His new manager, Jack Rollins, organized a showcase in the small room at the Comedy Store. The audience was filled with the who’s who of Hollywood. When comics are being judged by power players, we don’t take chances. We stick to our ‘A’ material. But not Robin. I stood in the back next to Jack Rollins, watching Robin spin comedy spontaneously, scoring laughs and admiration with his in-the-moment observations and impersonations. His manager turned to me and said, “That man is going to be a movie star.”

Many people are shocked that someone so funny could be suffering so profoundly.  There is no comic who doesn’t understand; we have all experienced the dark side of the laughs. That’s at the heart of comedy; it’s the magic act of transforming pain into punch-lines. The good ones make it look easy.

It’s impossible for me to imagine a world without Robin. He did everything at a fast pace. Too bad that includes his ending. I need him now to help us get through this terrible loss.

5 Steps to Bring Humor BACK to the Workplace!



 If you’re not laughing your way through your workday, you aren't alone. In this era of political correctness, the workplace has become humor impaired.  People are afraid to tell jokes because they might get fired for offending someone.  Workers have stopped laughing, because the boss might think they’re not getting work done.  And no one laughs anymore in Los Angeles, well, mostly because they can’t – too much Botox. 

Let's face it, we all want to work with, work for and even date people who can make us laugh. So why do we abandon our sense of humor as soon as we back the car out of the garage?

To save yourself from going completely bonkers during the next work crisis -- or to prevent employees from calling in for mental-health holidays twice a week -- consider these comedy tips:

1. Joke about yourself. -- everyone else probably is. It's not a receding hairline -- it's a punch-line!
Take your work and responsibilities seriously, but not yourself. A little self-deprecating humor can go a long way, so admit and joke about your defects rather than trying to cover them up.  I'm not suggesting saying to your boss, "Yes, I am utterly incompetent, ha ha!"  Some things are best not advertised.  But a little light humor can set a positive tone for the workplace.  So the next time someone asks you, "How are you?"  Tell them the truth - "I’m having a bad comb-over day."

2. Use humor in the stressful situations.
As a standup comic, I know that life's ups and downs are a great source for comic material.  After all, comedy material is based on the “bad” things that happen in life.  To a standup comic, it’s not a miserable marriage, it's comedy material.  When Bob, a sales person presented his report to a prospective client, the client said, “After seeing this report, I can tell that you are a complete idiot.”  Bob kept his humor and rather than getting defensive he said, “You’re so smart!  You figured out I was an idiot in five minutes.  It usually takes people three months to figure that out about me!”  Bob kept his humor, and kept his client. 

3. Structure fun
At least once a day, lighten up the office by doing something unexpected.  Humor and joking aren't reserved for the brazen. Southwest Airlines proves a little risk is worth the pay off.  Their flight attendants are known to sing the emergency announcement over the public address system.  Managers wear pig noses during corporate meetings. And guess what ?--Southwest has the most productive workforce, lowest attrition and absenteeism rate in the industry, not to mention a reputation for highly creative and innovative management.

4. Diffuse conflict with humor.
Being defensive creates tension, lowers your status and it leads to bad business decisions. Putting a positive spin on negative comments is a comedy technique that works well.  Whatever the situation, don't leave your humor in the hallway.  "This report is just as bad as your last report!"  "Well, at least I'm consistent!"-- but then let your boss know that you heard the underlying message too, and that there is a way to accomplish a task that would be more effective, and you'll try. It's just that you won't suffer.  Sometimes in tense negotiations, a strategically placed joke, a can shift power to your side.  

5. Keep yourself in the comedy zone. 
Don't wait for life to get better to get a sense of humor. It's not what happens that determines your happiness; it's how you chose to look at it.  When things happen that make you want to call suicide hotline, remember: You have a choice.  You can get stressed out and drink, or you can laugh… and drink!  So don't get mad, get funny. 

Jobs in Show Business: Tips for a Career in Entertainment



The facts are grim for those hoping to break into showbiz. It was while I was on a panel called “Building Your Empire” for the SAG/AFTRA Conservatory that I found out ONLY 10% of actors who are in the union are working. Wait, I’m not done. Only 10% of those who are working are ABOVE THE POVERTY LEVEL. That’s good to know before you quit your day job.  Afterwards they provided food. It must have been a nice change for the participants not to be serving it.

SAG/AFTRA Panel "Building Your Empire"
(L to R) Scott David (CD for Criminal Minds, founder of The Actors Link),
 Ajay Jahveri (Argentum Photos),  
Jamison Reeves (writer, actor, producer, director),  
Judy Carter, (Goddess)  
Lee Garlington (actor, writer, career coach, phenomenal moderator),  
Gary Marsh (founder of Breakdown Services)
Fledgling actors in the audience were asking, “How do I get an agent?”

Well, if you’re just getting over the fact that getting into the SAG/AFTRA union wasn’t your ticket to buying a condo in Brentwood, wait until you see what happens when you sign with an agent.  I’ve been represented by ICM, William Morris Agency, Gersh Agency, 5 different commercial agents, 3 different managers, and have worked with over 15 speakers bureaus.  I once named my dog “Bernie,” after my agent Bernie, because when I called either of them, they didn’t do anything. An actor friend told me he came off stage one night and was approached by a commercial agent, who said, “I’d like to handle you.” That would have been flattering except the guy WAS his agent. 

This year has been one of my most successful yet. I've shot 2 television pilots, my screenplay is being read by producers, I have regular speaking engagements, and I do not have ANY exclusive representation except for my lovely literary agent and a few speaker bureaus.

If you’re like me, you might make the mistake of thinking because you’ve signed with an agent, you can slack off. That’s their job; they often slack off once you’ve signed the agency agreement.

Here’s my plan for BOOSTING YOUR CAREER and BUILDING YOUR OWN EMPIRE:

1) Create a database. (CRM – Customer Relationship Management) When I was an 8 year-old magician performing at birthday parties, I kept every client’s name on an index card in a recipe box. I’ve moved up from a recipe box to a computer, where I file away everyone who has ever contacted me. Just like in Game of Thrones, the power is in the hands of how many people are in your army. Now, your power is in the number of followers you have in your database, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on YouTube. I use SugarCRM. You can use MailChimp, or here is a list of reviews http://www.reviews.com/crm-software/.

2) Provide your followers with value. They want to hear how you can help them. Give your fans something other than, “Come see my show!”  Email them about things THEY are interested in (don’t assume it’s you). Think of yourself as a first responder for THEIR needs.

3) Network by supporting other people.  After your day job, get out of the house, stay off the 405 and other roads that don’t move so you can talk to other comics, actors, writers, and participate in the community.  If you come to other people’s events, they just might come to yours (it’s not true for funerals).

4) Become a YOUTUBE  STAR. DIY your own projects on YouTube. Build your team to create your own projects and internet content. Join together with actors, writers, and directors to show what you can do. YouTube sensation Jenna Marbles has over 13 million subscribers and makes millions. GloZell turned herself into a star with her zany characters on YouTube. YouTube is the stage you want to be on.

5) Change your thinking. Getting a call and being cast in a network show is as unlikely as getting hit by lightning. Oh, wait, that just happened in Venice Beach! But, until I find a new metaphor, I’m holding onto it as it’s the best way to say you shouldn’t think that waiting to be discovered is a productive step. Be pro-active. DISCOVER YOURSELF. Network TV is yesterday. Think about YouTube, Netflix, Google TV, where new stars are being discovered online. The internet is the new casting couch – where you’ll get hits, instead of being hit on.

Creativity is Messy: 5 Tips to Being an Original Thinker



In business we hear: “Think OUTSIDE of the BOX.” What many don’t understand is that the road to original ideas is not a direct route. Getting to ‘outside of the box’ cannot be navigated by a GPS. It’s off the grid, like traveling on a dirt road, taking detours, and hoping you’ll know you’re at the right place when you’ve arrived.  

This is a critical piece of information for ANYONE who wants to do a TED talk, a corporate speech or even write a book that is FULL OF ORIGINAL IDEAS.

I got a call from someone, who wanted speaking coaching after he had seen his accountant friend, and one of my former clients, speak.  He was surprised and impressed that his straight-laced friend got laughs, tears, and a standing ovation. Did I mention that he’s a CPA? Now, he wanted the same thing – to speak and have an audience fall in love with him. I took him on.

At our first meeting, he left disappointed as he thought his entire speech would come together at that first meeting.  After we ended the hour Skype session with some rough ideas, he asked, “Is this working?”

What ISN’T working – with more work – WILL.  Be suspicious of things that are too good to be true. Newsflash: It takes MORE than “7 Days to Write your Best Seller,” way more than “5 Hours to Lose Weight” and it may NEVER happen that you “Find God and Peace over Breakfast.”

If you are to create something that will blow people’s socks off, you have to put in TIME and accept that the creative process is MESSY.

The journey to SUCCESS is littered with trial and error. The first pass is like putting on your underwear. Nobody has to see it unless you want them to. Once you’re covered, you get to address the next layer. The fun begins when you cut, improve and refine. Failing is a friendly tool, letting you know something needs to be fixed. We have to be willing to toss out material the way we get rid of other trash. Did I just lose the HOARDERS?

Look at it this way: A baby takes 9 months, and that doesn’t include your 5 years of diets, bad choices, and that Jack Daniels, “Let’s do shooters!” year.


As Michelangelo said, “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”  I would have advised him to take another pass at those sentences, lose some of the words and maybe get it down to, “I get rid of what’s there that’s not needed.” Too bad Michelangelo wasn’t my client; I could have made him a success.

I urge clients NOT TO RUSH, but to give themselves room and time to find the story that will motivate, a message that will inspire, and jokes to keep everyone awake. What matters most is NOT the idea, but HOW you present it.

My job as a coach is to help you find your never-existed-before-in-time idea, explore it and turn it on its head to see it from all angles while you hold onto your faith in yourself and in your message.

When you put in the right amount of work, it WILL appear to have been effortless.

Here are 5 simple tips to help you become a better writer:

1. Try writing at 4 AM. It's easier to write when your critic is asleep. You will have access to the hidden gold in your subconscious.


2. Write inappropriate stuff. There will be time to edit and censor yourself, but filtering out ideas in the beginning will also filter out the gold. 


3. If you get stuck – write lists starting with the Top 10 Reasons Writing Sucks. Lists are not just for David Letterman.


4. Cover your computer screen while you write. Not seeing what you are writing will keep you from judging it as you go.


5. Set your iPhone timer and keep writing until it goes off. The difference between pros and amateurs is that the pros keep going even when they don’t want to.
 

Careers in Comedy: Sometimes the Worst Mess Leads You to Success



How do you know when it’s time to change your direction in life?  Are you going to keep waiting on tables, or should you GIVE UP on your fantasy career and do something else? How much longer do you stay with an agent who’s not getting you jobs? Are you better off in a so-so relationship, or is it smarter to LEAVE while you still have all your original parts? STAY OR LEAVE: a question that resurfaced over the holiday weekend. 

I’d been SO EXCITED as I arranged a 4th of July vacation with my family in Big Bear -- hiking with the dogs, lying in a chaise lounge by the lake, sipping a drink, swimming. Then I saw the place. The Lake Front Lodge was a 3-STORY WALK-UP with nails sticking out of the plywood steps (I put the pictures up on my Facebook page). The room had curtains with BULLET HOLES; no, they weren’t lace. The one lamp was without a bulb. The bedspread, circa 1982 K-Mart, seemed to have holes from the SHRAPNEL, probably related to the curtain incident. There were no chairs by the lake, maybe because of the Hitchcock-like swarms of MOSQUITOES.  Swimming? Only if you could step through multiple CATFISH CARCASSES floating belly up on the shoreline.

So much for not checking Trip Advisor.

In one shattering moment, we discovered there were NO refunds, no other places available, and it started to STORM. Lightning, thunder, and a 4.8  EARTHQUAKE. The room was a crime scene, it was storming, our cellphones were beeping with an emergency flash flood warning – what next? Locusts, vermin, the slaughtering of firstborns? Did it make sense to STAY and smear the blood of a Paschal Lamb on my car? Or give up on the fantasy of what I had envisioned and LEAVE? We had to make a decision.

This reminded me of another time in my life where I had to make a decision to walk away or stay and make the best of it.

In 1989, I had a series of 10 stand-up comedy gigs booked by Rick Messina, who later became Drew Carey’s manager. I was staying in New York in the kind of neighborhood where even a schnauzer could get mugged, and that’s what happened to my beloved Walter, who got attacked by a pack of stray dogs. Cabs apparently don’t stop for bleeding animals, but I managed to get him to the animal hospital. Handing him over, I was crying as I told the doctors, “I can’t stay, I have to work!”

“This late? What do you do?” they asked.

“I’m a stand-up comedienne!” I said through my sobs.

At the time I had spent 17 years as a stand-up comedienne, sometimes 46 weeks on the road. This gig was in Long Island, a club called Governor’s, which somehow was a magnet for all the scum of the earth. I borrowed a jacket to cover my blouse that was caked with my dog’s blood. Making my way to the stage, I heard the crowd welcoming me with, “You suck! You suck!

I plodded onstage, starting a joke, “I’m worried about getting old…” Someone shouted, “Getting old?” I was 34. Do I stay onstage and “get them” or end this misery and piss off everyone?

Then, I had a EUREKA MOMENT where time seemed to roll in slow motion. I saw their drunken faces as a blur. I saw my father’s face with his bloodshot eyes. Then it hit me – that making drunks laugh was something I did as a child at the dinner table. I realized NOW I am an adult with CHOICES. And that night, I made a DARING CHOICE – to LEAVE. I walked off stage, walked out of my contracts with Rick, picked up my dog, got a plane home to LA, and looked for something else to do with my career.  For a year, I thought about how I could reinvent myself. That led to launching my workshops, writing Stand-Up Comedy: The Book, and appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show and getting booked in a career I didn’t know existed – as a CORPORATE SPEAKER.  

This is what came to mind while we were in Big Bear waiting for the mudslide to clear that had been triggered by the earthquake. Sometimes when dealing with bad situations, we forget that we ALWAYS HAVE A CHOICE.  As with poker, if life deals you bad cards, you can keep hoping that your luck will change, or fold.  I folded. I left Big Bear.

Back in the comfort of my own home, I took a bath in my CLEAN tub, went boogie-boarding in the ocean down the block, and felt sure I’d done the right thing. Knowing when to LEAVE is as important as knowing when to STAY.

Feel free to forward this to someone you know in a terrible marriage, dead-end job or whoever’s had too much cosmetic work done.

Is it better to be sorry about something you did, or something you didn't do? You have to DO IT to find out.

Judy's Blog

Judy Carter blogs on comedy, storytelling and public speaking techniques, using personal stories and her adventures as a stand-up comic turned motivational public speaker. Her weekly blogs are read by fans of her books, “The Comedy Bible” (Simon and Schuster) and “The Message of You” (St. Martin’s Press), which include comics, speakers, and entrepreneurs. She is also known for teaching the value of humor and storytelling to businesses as a leadership and stress reduction tool.